New Orleans Saints @ Miami Dolphins: Interview with the Enemy

You know what time it is. This week, our "Interview with the Enemy" series means we're talking with Matty I, the main man in charge of SB Nation's Dolphins blog, The Phinsider. Read on as he fills us in on the Wildcat offense, the Fins secondary and Chad Henne. Special thanks to Matty I for his time and wonderfully in-depth answers. 

CSC: How often do the Dolphins actually run the Wildcat? What have other teams done to successfully stop it?

TP: While I'm not sure of an exact percentage on how often the Dolphins run the Wildcat, it's definitely a big part of what they do offensively - even more so than it was last year.  They ran it 16 times against the Jets in their last game - which included using it on the 3rd down play with 10 seconds left in the game, needing a touchdown to win from New York's 2 yard line.  The players have bought into the formation to the point where they basically view it just as another formation.  It's not a "gimmick" to these guys.  It might be a gimmick when other NFL teams run it a few times per game.  But to the Dolphins, it's simply a power running formation - with some various "gadget" wrinkles mixed in.


As far as successfully stopping it, the Ravens are the only team that comes to mind.  But also keep in mind that when Baltimore stopped it last year, the Dolphins weren't nearly as good along their offensive line.  The Jets, led by former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, used similar techniques as the Ravens did last year to defend the Wildcat two weeks ago - but he failed to really stop it effectively.  I think it comes down to having the right personnel - in particular speedy, athletic linebackers and an "Ed Reed style" of safety.  And the bottom line is that, just like on any running play, the defense has to stay in their gaps and get off their blocks.  In reality, there's nothing "tricky" about it.  The Dolphins have just executed it brilliantly this season.

CSC: How does the Dolphins secondary match up against Drew Brees and his gaggle of talented receivers?

TP: It's not often you hear a receiving core referred to as a "gaggle of talented receivers."  But in your case, that's probably the perfect way to describe it.  Truth be told, the Dolphins really don't match up too well with that group.  It's the depth that really kills the Dolphins.  Cornerbacks Will Allen and rookies Sean Smith and Vontae Davis haven't been terrible.  They've had their ups and downs, and surprisingly it's been Smith who has probably been the best of the corners.  The Saints easily go four deep at receiver, though, and that scares the living daylights out of me.  And because the Dolphins generally stick to having Allen play on one side and Smith on the other, I expect the Saints to dictate the matchups - meaning we'll have to see more of Marques Colston on the smaller Will Allen rather than up against the taller Sean Smith.  And those kinds of matchups worry me.

But I'm even more worried about how the Dolphins plan to defend Jeremy Shockey and Reggie Bush.  The Dolphins have struggled all year to defend athletic pass-catching tight ends and Shockey will give Miami's safeties matchup nightmares.  Meanwhile, the Dolphins don't have one linebacker who excells in dropping into coverage - which is why the though of Reggie Bush coming out of the backfield has been haunting me since last week's game ended.  In my opinion, it's those two players who are the real "X factors" of Sunday's game.

 

CSC: Vontae Davis was a strong candidate to be the Saints first round pick in this years draft by a lot of mock drafters. How has he been playing so far?

TP: Davis has played relatively well.  He's made some plays - most obvious being the pick six against Buffalo two games ago where he read the out pattern like a book and easily jumped the route and made the interception.  But he's also an aggressive corner, which the Dolphins knew when they took him.  And he's made those kinds of rookie mistakes that aggressive corners make - for instance, peeking into the backfield resulting in a big play for the offense courtesy of a play-action fake.  Those are the kinds of things he has to improve upon.  But he's coming along.

However, it's been the other rookie - second round pick Sean Smith - who has been the starter since training camp opposite of Will Allen.  He's got elite size (6'3 1/2) and terrific balk skills.  He doesn't have an interception, but he's also only allowed one long reception so far this year.  And he was matched up on Reggie Wayne back in week two for most of the game, limiting him to just 3 receptions for 37 yards.  He also had a huge pass break-up last game while defending Braylon Edwards.  Right now, I bet most Dolphin fans would tell you they are most confident in Smith among Miami's entire secondary - which says a lot. 

 

CSC: Taking a look around The Phinsider, many fans seem to be labeling this as one of the biggest games of the year for them. Now that the Saints are undefeated, they've got a big target on their back. Should the Saints be worried about underestimating the Fins?

TP: It's definitely one of the biggest games of the year for the Dolphins.  Starting out 0-3 really left little room for error in terms of the remaining 13 games.  And the Dolphins have done a nice job of getting back into things despite that disappointing start.  Even if New Orleans wasn't undefeated, this would be a big game for Miami.  Their next two games are at New England and at the Jets.  So the Dolphins can't afford to lose their fourth game of the year before making that potentially daunting road trip.

With that said, there's of course some extra juice in this game because the Saints come to Miami unbeaten.  And there are a few reasons for that.  I think that respect is one of them.  The Saints just beat up on the Giants and come to Miami as a team who many feel is one of the top two teams in the league.  A win by the Dolphins would not only put them back at .500 on the year, but would really generate some national buzz about this team.  But more importantly, we can't forget those pesky '72 Dolphins - who start creeping up out of the wood work this time of the year when there are unbeaten teams.  The "perfect season" is a big part of this franchise's history.  The fans, especially, put an emphasis on the achievement.  And when the Saints come down to Land Shark Stadium, expect the crowd to be fired up and ready to go.  Make no mistake - no Dolphin fan wants another team to go undefeated ever again.

As far as underestimating the Dolphins, I could see some teams doing that.  I think the Jets did that two weeks ago.  But I just don't think the Saints, with their coaching staff, will let these players come down to Miami thinking they can just steam roll this team.  I'm sure Sean Payton has at least brought up what the Dolphins did against the Colts in week two - dominating the time of possession battle and coming within one Ted Ginn dropped pass of knocking off the best team in the AFC.  Miami's two other losses - to Atlanta and San Diego - were heavily aided by Dolphin miscues.  If not for some turnovers, the Dolphins could easily have a better record heading into this game.  So while some Saints fans might overlook the Dolphins, I don't think the Saints players and coaches will.  But if they do, they are in for a rude awakening.

 

CSC: Tell Saints fans something about the Dolphins they wouldn't know.

TP: I'd imagine that most Saints fans aren't familiar with second-year quarterback Chad Henne.  But you're going to get acquainted with him very soon when he makes his third career start on Sunday against New Orleans.

Here's an interesting little nugget about Henne.  His quarterback rating in the two games he has started is 112.9.  No quarterback in league history has ever posted a better passer rating in their first two career starts than Chad Henne posted.  Everybody knows that Henne has a big arm.  But I think what you'll learn on Sunday is just how composed Henne is.  He never gets rattled and there's not once been a situation in which it looked liked Henne was shaken.  He's confident, smart with the football, and will stand tall in the pocket to make a throw if necessary.

I'll be honest - I was probably as skeptical about Henne as anyone was.  But his performance in the fourth quarter of a big-time rivalry game on a national stage - 9 of 11 for 121 yards and two touchdowns, including two critical third down conversions on the game-winning drive - has started turning me into a believer.  And coming off of the bye week, I just have an inkling that the coaches might let Henne fling it around a little more than they have so far on Sunday
.    

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